Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams is one of the few players that new UT strength coach Yancy McKnight has been impressed with early in offseason workouts. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Connor Williams helped his NFL cause at the combine, but will he be a pro tackle or guard?

Posted March 2nd, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Connor Williams followed up his 26 reps on the bench with a 5.05 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.
  • Williams missed half of his junior season with a knee injury, but hasn't shown any effects of it in Indianapolis.
  • Williams would like to play tackle in the NFL, but a move to guard also is a possibility.

INDIANAPOLIS — Connor Williams will play in the NFL.

But where?

We know the offensive lineman can play. We know some team is getting a high-character individual with great intelligence and the athleticism to match. What we don’t know is if Williams will play tackle, guard or even center in the pros.

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His draft status remains somewhat of a mystery, but Williams is keeping it positive. He makes no secret of his desire to remain at tackle though his 6-5, 296-pound frame could make a switch inside to guard a possibility.

One scout at the NFL combine told me he could see Williams playing on the interior especially if he adds some bulk to deal with the monsters that play noseguard and nose tackle on a weekly basis.

Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Friday, March 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Either way, Williams will make a nice living. He understands the business and knows any organization willing to invest millions in his ability will likely know where he can best meet his full potential. The fluctuations in mock drafts regarding his draft status has to be a bit unnerving even for a cool customer like Williams, who always had a pretty good poker face in his dealings with the Austin media over the years.

”It’s not anything in my control,” Williams said. “I mean, it’s me performing my best and I don’t need to pay any attention to the outside.”

Williams will become the first UT offensive lineman drafted since Tony Hills went to Pittsburgh in 2008, and he has an outside shot of being the first to go in the first round since Mike Williams in 2002. Williams didn’t wow them in Indy like Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, who ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash one day after tying the running backs record in the bench press with 29 reps of 225 pounds, but he was rock solid and in the combine’s circus atmosphere, and that goes a long way in the evaluation process.

Williams plays with a tremendous amount of belief and though we saw some ups (Notre Dame 2016) and some downs (Maryland 2017), he has walked around campus as the most viable draft candidate in a struggling program for the last couple of years.

“I believe I instill my will,” he said when asked to describe his technique. “I’m a finisher and I go to the whistle and at the same time, balance that with athleticism and 100-percent effort and you get somewhere with it.”

Texas offensive lineman Connor Williams competes in the bench press at the 2018 NFL football scouting combine Thursday, March 1, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

One day after putting up 26 reps on the bench, Williams ran a 5.05 in the 40-yard dash, which is very good for an offensive lineman. He also posted a 34-inch vertical jump and 112 inches in the broad jump. Most important, he showed no ill effects of the knee injury that forced him to miss seven games in his final season. When someone mentioned a possible position switch, he said, “Personally, I feel like I’m a tackle but I’m willing to play anywhere a team needs me.”

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock lists him as the third best tackle in this draft — behind Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown — and he did nothing to dispel that ranking with nice numbers on his second day of work. Shoot, he may even move past Brown after the Sooner’s struggles though Zeus Jr.’s sheer size (6-7, 345) and film are difficult to overlook even he didn’t show up with his A game this week. He ran 5.86 in the 40 and put up only 14 reps on the bench, though I was told that his long arms aren’t conducive to putting up numbers in the event.

As for Williams, he’ll likely be the highest UT lineman pick since Justin Blalock went in the second round to the Atlanta Falcons in 2007. Blalock played both tackle and guard in college before spending eight years with the Falcons as a starting guard, so he knows a bit about what Williams is going through.

The difference was Blalock knew he would be drafted as a guard. He told me he immediately went to work with a longtime NFL offensive line coach to make the transition.

“I also had the luxury of the Senior Bowl, where I got to cross-train at both spots,” Blalock said. “Of course, Connor’s nearly three inches taller and 25 pounds lighter than I was, so I imagine he’ll have more flexibility. I imagine he’ll have every chance to be somebody’s right tackle next year, then transition to left tackle over time.”

It’s what Williams wants.

NFL scouting combine

This year’s combine runs through Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Here’s a day-by-day schedule for drills, including players from the Big 12 and other state schools. TV coverage is on the NFL Network:

SATURDAY: QB, WR, TE

Quarterbacks — Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State; Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech

Wide receivers — Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State; Dylan Cantrell, Texas Tech; Keke Coutee, Texas Tech; Christian Kirk, Texas A&M; Chris Lacy, Oklahoma State; Allen Lazard, Iowa State; Byron Pringle, Kansas State; Trey Quinn, SMU; Courtland Sutton, SMU; James Washington, Oklahoma State; Ka’raun White, West Virginia

Tight ends — Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

SUNDAY: DL, LB

Defensive linemen — (ends) Dorance Armstrong, Kansas; Marcus Davenport, UTSA; Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; (tackles) Zaycoven Henderson, Texas A&M

Linebackers — (outside) Malik Jefferson, Texas

MONDAY: DB

Defensive backs — (cornerbacks) Holton Hill, Texas; D.J. Reed, Kansas State; Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma; (safeties) DeShon Elliott, Texas, Tre Flowers, Oklahoma State; Armani Watts, Texas A&M; Kyzir White, West Virginia

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